NFL Nation: Joe Thomas

Packers Camp Report: Day 16

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
9:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • Maybe Monday will be remembered as the day the light went on for first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. After going 15 straight practices without an interception, the rookie safety picked off two passes during a one-hour and 29-minute session without pads inside the Don Hutson Center. Clinton-Dix's first pick came off fourth-string quarterback Chase Rettig, who badly overthrew receiver Chris Harper. His second one was a little more impressive because it came on the second play of the two-minute drill by the starting offense. Running back James Starks let a dump-off pass from Aaron Rodgers ricochet off his hands and Clinton-Dix plucked it out of the air. You could argue that both interceptions were gift-wrapped to him, but at least he made a couple of plays. "I thought it was great to actually touch the ball again after a while, so that felt good," Clinton-Dix said.
  • The defense won both two-minute drills, although Matt Flynn went a little longer with the No. 2 offense than Rodgers' two-plays-and-out possession. Flynn directed an eight-play drive that ended on fourth-and-10 from the defense's 21-yard line. On the last play, safety Chris Banjo picked off a pass that went off the outstretched hands of tight end Justin Perillo.
  • Other than the two-minute period, it was a stellar day by both Flynn and Scott Tolzien, who remain in a competition for the backup job. Flynn's best throw was on a deep corner route to Alex Gillett. He placed the ball perfectly out of the reach of cornerback Jarrett Bush. Tolzien had a couple of noteworthy throws, a go route down the right sideline that Myles White caught without breaking stride and a 30-yard corner route to Perillo over Clinton-Dix. "I thought they had sharp practices," coach Mike McCarthy said of Flynn and Tolzien. "It was our best tempo of the year. We were done extremely early in every period and the takeaways by the defense in the two-minute drill obviously added to that, so I was very pleased with the energy and the tempo. I think it's going to be a lot of good video. So, I thought both of those guys did a lot of good things."
  • The only new injury was to tight end Brandon Bostick (lower leg). He is expected to miss the rest of the preseason. Others who did not practice were: running back Rajion Neal (knee), tight end Colt Lyerla (knee), offensive lineman Don Barclay (knee), receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring). McCarthy would not say whether Abbrederis or Barclay had their ACL reconstruction surgeries yet. Both will eventually be placed on injured reserve.
  • For the first time all camp, rain forced practice inside the Don Hutson Center. That means there are only four open practices left in training camp. The next one is Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. local time.

Packers Camp Report: Day 13

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
7:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • Rookie seventh-round receiver Jeff Janis continues to impress. Even though he had his first drop of camp on Tuesday in the two-minute drill, Janis made another eye-catching grab, laying out to catch a deep post from Aaron Rodgers during a team period. It followed a one-handed catch for a touchdown last week and a twisting catch in practice on Monday. It has been a remarkable return from shingles, which caused the seventh-round pick from Saginaw Valley State to miss the first seven training camp practices. "Jeff Janis has made a play every day he's been out there," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Tuesday's practice. "He made another big play today. He looks good. Hopefully, we can get him fully cleared by the medical staff for Saturday night [against the St. Louis Rams]. I really like what he's done so far."
  • Another receiver fighting for a roster spot came back after a bad day. Second-year pro Kevin Dorsey, who dropped two passes on Monday, made a difficult catch on a crossing route with cornerback Sam Shields in tight coverage.
  • Quarterback Scott Tolzien got to run the two-minute drill but could not lead a touchdown drive. Trailing by 28-24 with 1:31 on the clock and no timeouts starting at the 35-yard line, Tolzien drove the No. 3 offense to the 9-yard line with 6 seconds left. Tolzien got off two plays but couldn't finish either one. On third down, he went to Chris Harper on a corner route but safety Charles Clay broke it up. On fourth down, he rolled to his right and went to Harper again but could not connect.
  • Receiver Jordy Nelson returned to practice on Tuesday after sitting out Saturday's preseason opener at Tennessee because of a hamstring injury. Nelson did not practice Monday but was cleared to work on a limited basis.
  • Rookie safety Tanner Miller, who has been out since the first week of camp because of an ankle injury, returned to practice. The undrafted free agent from Iowa broke up a Rodgers pass intended for Randall Cobb.
  • Defensive end Josh Boyd (ribs) also returned. He missed only one day.
  • The Packers were not in pads, but McCarthy said that was the plan all along.
  • Those who did not practice were: receiver Davante Adams (wrist), running back Rajion Neal (knee), tight end Colt Lyerla (knee), linebacker Joe Thomas (knee), guard/tackle Don Barclay (knee), receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring) and defensive end Jerel Worthy (back).
  • Lyerla said the second opinion he got on on his knee last week confirmed what he suspected: that he likely will miss the remainder of the preseason. Although he would not get into details about the injury, the rookie free agent said he will not require surgery but the healing time will make it nearly impossible for him to participate in any of the preseason games. The Packers will have to decide whether to place him on injured reserve or come to an injury settlement if he's not healthy by Week 1. "I don’t think I'll really find anything out until the cut day," he said.
  • The next practice is Wednesday at 11:45 a.m. local time. It is the last open practice of the week.

Packers Camp Report: Day 12

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
8:00
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • As training camp practices go in Green Bay, Monday was a bit unusual. It was one of only a handful of summer sessions that was closed to the public. Reporters were allowed to watch, but it was made perfectly clear that any scheme or personnel-related activities were off limits. Clearly working on things coach Mike McCarthy did not want anyone to see, likely in preparation for the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 4, the Packers went for one-hour and 55 minutes with tarps pinned to the fence that surrounds Ray Nitschke Field. "It was exactly what we wanted," McCarthy said. "That's an in-season Wednesday practice for us, and I thought it was a very good practice."
  • Quarterback Aaron Rodgers used every bit of the 57 seconds the coaches gave him to run the 2-minute drill, but he capped a nine-play drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. Rodgers completed 5 of 8 passes for 60 yards. He hit tight end Brandon Bostick for gains of 7, 8 and 5 yards on three of the first five snaps. He kept the drive going by converting a fourth-and-5 on a scramble in which he avoided a sack by Mike Neal.
  • Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn alternated taking the No. 2 quarterback reps until the 2-minute period, when Flynn got a turn but Tolzien did not. He took the offense into the red zone but ran out of time. On his final play, on first down from the 15-yard line, Flynn missed tight end Jake Stoneburner in the end zone.
  • Starting left guard Josh Sitton had taken only one rep in the one-on-one pass blocking drill in camp before Monday. It came on July 31, a loss to Mike Daniels. Sitton, who said it was to give his sore back a chance to rest, was back in the drill on Monday and blocked rookie defensive tackle Carlos Gray in his only turn. Julius Peppers, who had split four reps during the first two weeks, won his only turn on Monday. He beat starting left tackle David Bakhtiari to the inside.
  • Apparently, Saturday's preseason opener at Tennessee wasn't enough to satisfy the players' desire to hit someone because there were at least three separate scuffles during Monday's practice.
  • Safety Morgan Burnett returned to practice after missing Saturday's games against the Titans because of an oblique strain, but the Packers still had their largest injury list to date. Those who did not practice were: receiver Davante Adams (wrist), running back Rajion Neal (knee), safety Tanner Miller (ankle), tight end Colt Lyerla (knee), linebacker Joe Thomas (knee), guard/tackle Don Barclay (knee), receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee), receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), defensive tackle Josh Boyd (ribs), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring) and defensive end Jerel Worthy (back).
  • The first of two open practices this week is Tuesday at noon local time.
The Green Bay Packers decided not to play starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Saturday's preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans in part so that they could take a long look at their backup quarterbacks.

They probably liked what they saw from Scott Tolzien in the 20-16 loss in tough weather conditions at LP Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.

Not that there was anything wrong with Matt Flynn, who started and played most of the first half against the Titans' defensive starters, but he did not move the ball as well as Tolzien did against Tennessee's backups. After Flynn went 5-of-10 for 49 yards, Tolzien relieved him for the final series of the second quarter. He played into the fourth quarter and completed 8 of 12 passes for 124 yards. At least two of Tolzien's passes were dropped, not including Chris Harper's drop on a two-point conversion pass.

Each quarterback led one touchdown drive, both of which ended with rushing touchdowns, and neither threw an interception while playing in near-constant rain.

Some other thoughts on the Packers' first preseason game of the year:
  • It was startling to see first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix fail to tackle 5-foot-8, 170-pound running back Dexter McCluster, who turned the miss into a 10-yard gain, but the rookie safety recovered on the next play to dump Bishop Sankey after a 1-yard gain. Clinton-Dix also had a nice pass breakup on a seam route by Taylor Thompson. Thompson beat Clinton-Dix off the line, but he recovered to knock the ball out.
  • It was surprising to see rookie receiver Davante Adams get the first crack on punt returns, given that he has had limited opportunities to do so in practice, but he might not get another chance after muffing his two opportunities. He recovered the first one and returned it 8 yards, but the Titans got the second one, and it led to their lone first-half touchdown. Maybe it was the wet ball, because the normally steady Micah Hyde muffed a fair catch in the third quarter, although he recovered it. Running back DuJuan Harris returned the opening kickoff 40 yards, but bobbled his second turn.
  • With Eddie Lacy held out, James Starks looked like the same running back as last season, when he averaged a career-best 5.5 yards per carry as a backup. Starks made a nice cut on his 20-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and carried six times for 49 yards, mostly against the Titans' starters. Harris, in his first game action since the end of the 2012 season, carried seven times for 18 yards with a long run of 11 and had a pair of short receptions. Undrafted rookie running back Rajion Neal had an impressive debut with five carries for 39 yards (including a 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter).
  • The Packers had to like what they saw from starting center JC Tretter in his first NFL action. While the No. 1 offensive line played just one series, the second-year pro remained in for two more series with the second unit. He had a good block on the backside of Starks' touchdown and had no problems snapping the wet ball.
  • The only other injuries announced during the game were to Neal and linebacker Joe Thomas. Both undrafted rookies sustained knee injuries.

W2W4: Green Bay Packers

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
12:00
PM ET
The Green Bay Packers (0-0) and Tennessee Titans (0-0) open the preseason Saturday night at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Here are three things to watch:

1. Quarterback play: Aaron Rodgers won't play much on Saturday -- he did not last preseason, either -- in part because coach Mike McCarthy wants to take a long look at his backup quarterbacks. If Scott Tolzien is going to supplant Matt Flynn for the No. 2 job -- or convince McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson to keep three quarterbacks -- then he needs to perform better in the preseason games than he has in the first two weeks of practice. Tolzien has improved as camp has gone on, but to date he probably has not done enough to make the Packers think he's a better option than Flynn, who has proven he can win games as a backup in Green Bay. Whichever quarterback wins the job, the Packers feel like they are in a much better position behind Rodgers than they were a year ago, when they brought in Vince Young to compete with Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman. A year later, all three of those quarterbacks are out of the league.

2. Rookie reactions: There will be first-game jitters and mistakes, McCarthy and his staff know that about their rookies, so they're not going to complete their report on any player based on the preseason opener. But the coaches would like to see how some key players take what they have been doing on the practice field into the games. Can first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix make the big plays that were lacking from the safeties last season? Can second-round receiver Davante Adams get over the drops and continue his push for the No. 3 spot? Will third-round tight end Richard Rodgers take another step toward winning the starting job? All will get chances, especially Clinton-Dix, who may start given the absence of Morgan Burnett (oblique strain). Said McCarthy: "I'm looking for players to jump out. I want someone to jump out and do exactly what they're supposed to do with the energy and the efficiency that you say, 'Hey, I gotta get ready [because] I'm going to have more opportunities.'"

3. Undrafted gems: You might not know much about guys like Carlos Gray, Mike Pennel, Jayrone Elliott and Joe Thomas but if they continue to play like they have in practice, then you just might become more familiar with them. So far, those four have been the standouts of the undrafted rookie class. Gray and Pennel could challenge for a roster spot on the defensive line, while Elliott has made plays from the outside linebacker position and Thomas from the inside backer spot. The Packers have a history of doing well with undrafted free agents. In the past four seasons combined, they have had 13 of them on their Week 1 roster.

W2W4: Packers' Family Night

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
3:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. – From a pure football standpoint (forget about the fireworks and the jersey giveaways) the best thing about the Green Bay Packers' Family Night was always the fact that it featured the first live tackling (except of the quarterbacks, of course) of the summer.

But even that is no more.

Coach Mike McCarthy decided to ditch the scrimmage this year in favor of a regular training camp practice. Fans still ate up the $10 tickets, and Lambeau Field is sold out for tonight's event, which gets underway with pre-practice activities at 5:30 p.m., but it surely won't be the same.

"Just the way the whole schedule laid out for Mike and his staff, we just needed that day as a normal practice day to be able to get everything accomplished that we wanted to get accomplished," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said this week. "And quite frankly, I don't know that it'll look a whole lot different. We still have some really good fireworks, which is a big hit in the locker room and with all the kids and that sort of thing."

With that in mind, here are a few things to watch:

QB competition: The last time anyone saw Scott Tolzien at Lambeau Field, he was getting benched in favor of Matt Flynn during the Nov. 24 tie against the Minnesota Vikings. So far in camp, Flynn holds the edge over Tolzien for the backup job behind Aaron Rodgers, but how Tolzien performs from here on out will determine whether the Packers have a difficult decision to make when it comes to deciding how many quarterbacks to keep.

"Matt knows what he does well and plays to his strengths," quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said Friday. "He's won games for the Packers. Scott, he's still trying to catch up and learn. Having a year in the system in the offseason has helped him tremendously, so he's coming along as well. Matt's done a great job, and I think Scott should be commended as well."

One-on-one reps: The most competitive drill in training camp is almost always the one-on-one pass-rushing/pass-blocking drill and given that they did not do the drill on Friday, there's a good chance they will do so tonight.

Here's a look at the best records in the drill so far:

Offensive linemen: T.J. Lang (4-0), Bryan Bulaga (6-1), Corey Linsley (6-1), David Bakhtiari (5-1), Derek Sherrod (5-1), JC Tretter (5-2), Garth Gerhart (5-2) and Don Barclay (5-3).

Pass-rushers: Mike Daniels (6-2), Datone Jones (6-4), Mike Neal (3-3), Julius Peppers (2-2), B.J. Raji (4-6).

Crosby's kicks: If there was a low point for Mason Crosby, it might have been on Family Night last year. Coming off his worst NFL season and locked in a kicking competition with Giorgio Tavecchio, Crosby missed five of his eight kicks in the scrimmage. He eventually steadied himself to reclaim the job and went on to his best season. He has carried that over into training camp, where in two kicking sessions so far he has made 14-of-16. Special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said Crosby will kick tonight, but it won't be as extensive as last year's session.

"Last year he was under a pretty intense competition," Slocum said. "He did well toward the end of it and had a good season and has come back this year, I really like where he's at. I think he's in a good place right now."

Wild-card performers: In Family Nights of the past, there have been players who have come out of relative obscurity to make themselves noticed. One of the unknowns who has already worked his way up the depth chart is rookie free-agent linebacker Joe Thomas of South Carolina State, and he likely will get more opportunities to show whether he can make enough plays to earn a roster spot.

"I think I've just done enough to get the attention of the coaches and better my chances of making the team," Thomas said. "I've got to continue to progress each day to keep catching the eye of the coaches."

Until preseason games begin next week, there's no better chance to do so than on Family Night.

Abbrederis injury update: You won't see rookie receiver Jared Abbrederis on the field (although he may be in attendance), but we should learn more about his knee injury.

Indications are that the fifth-round pick from Wisconsin sustained a torn ACL, although he was awaiting another round of tests to be sure. If those tests confirm such, he will need season-ending surgery.

Packers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
6:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:


  • Lest you forgot about Sean Richardson when it came time to talk about playing time at the safety position, the third-year pro reminded everyone of his potential on Monday. With the pads on for the first time, Richardson made a play that has rarely been replicated by a Packers safety since the days of Nick Collins or Charles Woodson. During a team blitz period, Aaron Rodgers fired a pass over the middle to Jordy Nelson but Richardson jumped in and snatched the ball away from Nelson for an interception.
  • For the first padded practice of camp, the temperature on Monday morning when things kicked off at 8:20 a.m. local time was just 56 degrees. An hour into the practice, it was not yet 60 degrees, but the Packers took one of their TV timeout regeneration breaks and followed it with one short period followed by another water break. Still, when asked whether it was fun to put the pads on, veteran guard Josh Sitton said, "I mean, fun is a little strong." The practice lasted 2 hours, 26 minutes – or about 10 minutes longer than the non-padded practices each of the first two days.
  • Nose tackle B.J. Raji got off to a strong start in the first one-on-one pass-rushing drill. He won all three of his reps. Of course, when someone wins, it means someone else looked bad. Twice, Raji beat JC Tretter, who is trying to lock down the starting center job. Raji beat Tretter with his quickness on one turn and then overpowered him on another. Tackle Bryan Bulaga also looked good in his first turns since blowing out his knee last camp. He won all three of his reps, including one at left tackle against Clay Matthews.
  • In other odds and ends from practice: Cornerback Davon House had a strip-sack of Matt Flynn and recovered the fumble during the team blitz period. … If you're looking for an undrafted rookie to watch, keep an eye on inside linebacker Joe Thomas of South Carolina State. He's a bit undersized (6-1, 227) but is around the ball often. … In what could be a bad sign for undrafted rookie tight end Colt Lyerla, he was relegated to the scout team that worked against the defense at the start of practice while the majority of the offensive players, including fellow undrafted rookie tight end Justin Perillo, practiced inside the Hutson Center at the start of the session.
  • Outside linebacker Mike Neal said he could be cleared to practice as soon as Wednesday. He remains on the PUP list with a core muscle injury but is scheduled to be examined on Tuesday. He said he reported to camp lighter than ever, at 263 pounds. He played last season at 275, which is about 25 pounds lighter than he was is first three seasons, when he played defensive end.
  • In addition to Neal, others who remained out were: Nick Perry (foot, knee), Jamari Lattimore (illness), Jeff Janis (illness), Letroy Guion (hamstring), and Jerel Worthy (back). Janis made an appearance at practice for the first time in camp.
  • The Packers do not practice on Tuesday. They return to the field on Wednesday at 8:20 a.m. local time.
BEREA, Ohio -- Joe Thomas has reached the point in his career where he is given days off during Cleveland Browns' training camp.

[+] EnlargeJoe Thomas
AP PhotoVeteran tackle Joe Thomas runs sprints during a conditioning test at the Browns' training camp facility in Berea, Ohio.
It's a sign of respect, and in Thomas' case it's respect for sustained and consistent excellence in each of his seven previous seasons in the league, when he's made seven Pro Bowls and never missed a snap.

Thomas remains ever dedicated, ever courteous. He also is unfailingly humble. But as his career progresses, he has become more and more insightful about the game's nuances and games within the game.

So when he speaks, it's worth listening. There will be no outrageousness, and no fudging of the truth either. Monday, Thomas spoke with the media for the first time since training camp began, touching on two issues of interest -- the running game and Brian Hoyer (he was not crusading for Hoyer, merely answering questions).

Thomas spent most of last season talking about the running game being an NFL dinosaur and saying that to win in the modern age teams had to throw the ball. He even went as far as to say he'd never draft a running back in the first round. Now, though, he plays for a team that (assuming Josh Gordon is suspended) will have to run the ball effectively to win.

Thomas acknowledged the irony, but added the Kyle Shanahan system -- an offshoot of his father Mike Shanahan -- would have the Browns closer to a 50-50 run-pass split than at any time in his career regardless. He said Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme is dependent on the run because it relies heavily on play-action.

"You need to be able to run those wide zones, even if it gets one or zero yards, to keep the safeties up," Thomas said. "It's when they're trying to fill in the run game that you can hit those big plays over the top."

Thomas said the Browns and Baltimore (with Shanahan disciple Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator) are the only two teams to run the zone-blocking system, which requires lateral movement from linemen and a back who can read the hole, plant and hit the hole with authority. Thomas said the zone-blocking scheme is drastically different than anything he's done, but it fits the skills of the team's offensive line better than any system in his career. That's because the Browns have guys who can move in Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz.

"This is in my opinion one of the only schemes that you can run the ball consistently," Thomas said, "because you make those defensive linemen run sideline to sideline. And it does set up the passing game that we run very, very well."

Regarding Hoyer, Thomas had nothing but praise. He was careful not to compare Hoyer to Johnny Manziel, or to say that one or the other would start. He simply praised Hoyer as "every bit one of the best competitors in the NFL."

"No matter if we drafted a quarterback No. 1 overall, I knew that in his mind he expected to win the job," Thomas said.

He added Hoyer is never hesitant or afraid to challenge teammates on the field, and he is much more vocal than it might appear.

"He has less starts than probably any guy but a rookie who's out there starting right now," Thomas said. "He commands a level of respect because of the way he goes about his business doing things the right way and acting like he's the starting quarterback that's taken us to five playoffs.

"I think it's that attitude and that swagger that demands respect, and he also goes out and he backs it up on the field where he throws the ball to the right person, he's doing the right things, he's getting everybody on the same page. That's just as much the role of the quarterback as throwing touchdown passes."
BEREA, Ohio -- "Quiet" was the operative word as the Cleveland Browns talked about their much-ballyhooed rookie quarterback Wednesday.

Johnny Manziel is "quiet," coach Mike Pettine said.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Mark DuncanAt this point in practices, the Browns aren't yet calling on Johnny Manziel to use his mobility.
So did Brian Hoyer. And so did Joe Thomas, who said Manziel was doing well to be quiet.

"Rookies are supposed to be seen and not heard," Thomas said.

Let the acclimation of Johnny Football into the Browns continue.

Based on one offseason practice in shorts, it's wise not to make fast judgments. There's a long way to go and much to learn. At this point, all that can be said is the Browns quarterbacks as a group have to be among the shortest in the league.

None really distinguished himself, though Hoyer was probably the best (despite an interception on his first throw in team drills) and Tyler Thigpen probably struggled the most.

After the practice, general manager Ray Farmer appeared on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland and said that right now Hoyer is the better quarterback "by a substantial margin."

Manziel looked like a rookie who's had the world thrown at him. Though Pettine said the lack of a playbook in college means little because Texas A&M ran a complex offense, the Browns coach was quick to list the things Manziel has to learn that go with a pro offense -- the formation, the cadence, putting the right player in motion, the protection.

This was only Manziel's second practice with the full team, and it followed three weekend days with rookies only. It's normal that a rookie's head would be spinning at this point. Witness that Hoyer, a veteran, had growing pains during Browns training camp last season then played well when given a chance.

On the pecking order, Hoyer was with the first team, Thigpen the second and Manziel the third -- though things were jumbled a bit because Hoyer did not do all the full-team drills.

Pettine said the Browns are simply giving Manziel the basic plays and routes and that in this setting the team is not taking advantage of his strength, which is his mobility. That will all come later.

"You don't take a guy that's made a living being a mobile quarterback and tell him all of a sudden he's going to be a statue," Pettine said.

That means reading too much into anything is silly. Manziel did, though, show an inclination to throw across his body in some footwork drills when throwing left. His low release could be an issue with taller defenders -- his final throw in practice was knocked down -- but he also had some nice throws, including one over the middle to new tight end Jim Dray and another on an out pattern to new receiver Andrew Hawkins. Otherwise, it was quite simply another day for Manziel to learn.

The NFL draft is an interesting event. It builds players up, celebrates them when they're taken and follows them when they arrive.

But in the end, how they do comes down to learning a system, practicing and playing physical and smart. The initial experience can be a challenge, the learning curve steep. Once it starts, it's a grind -- especially when training camp arrives.

Peyton Manning went through it. So did Tim Couch and every other player drafted into the league.

Fighting through it is the first step to success. Not even Johnny Football can avoid going through the process.

In that regard, he's right where he should be.
Johnny ManzielRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesIs Tony Romo's back enough of a concern for the Dallas Cowboys that they'd take a flier on the media circus that would come with drafting quarterback Johnny Manziel?

IRVING, Texas -- Johnny Manziel is the most polarizing player in this draft, so naturally people believe he will end up with the Dallas Cowboys, the most polarizing team in the NFL.

With the first round coming fast, ESPNDallas writers take a roundtable look at what a union of the Cowboys and Manziel would mean.

SportsNation

Should the Cowboys take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 16th pick if he falls to them?

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    56%
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    44%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,137)

Todd Archer: Let's make an huge assumption here that Manziel will be available at No. 16 when the Cowboys pick in the first round. I ask this question first: Should the Cowboys pick the Texas A&M quarterback? We'll get to "Would the Cowboys pick him?" in a second.

My take is, yes, the Cowboys should take him, and I'm not even thinking about the marketing opportunities and off-field stuff that Jerry Jones thinks about. From a football standpoint, I'd argue it would be a great value pick. There is no way the Green Bay Packers thought they would get Aaron Rodgers in 2005 late in the first round, but they took him even when Brett Favre was playing well. Tony Romo is 34 and coming off two back surgeries. I think he'll be fine and return to form, but what happens if he doesn't or he takes a big hit in Week 8 and is down for the year?

Jerry always tried to find a quarterback on the cheap after Troy Aikman retired and he never found a guy until Romo. And that was lucky. I think he'd be lucky again if Manziel were there at No. 16.

Calvin Watkins: I don't believe the Cowboys should take him. No. 1, I don't believe he'll fall to No. 16 or even out of the top 10. If he does fall to No. 16, the Cowboys should either bypass him or trade down. This team has bigger holes to address such as secondary and defensive line before quarterback. There are quarterbacks later, such as Aaron Murray from Georgia, who can be taken in the second or third round. Yeah, I know Romo is coming off back surgery and he's 34 and all of that. It's a back injury and you never know about backs. However, getting Manziel at No. 16 isn't worth it to me. You can find a good quarterback to groom in the later rounds.

Tim MacMahon: Heck, yes. If you can get a guy you feel is a franchise quarterback in the middle of the first round, you do it, especially when the fate of your franchise rests on a 34-year-old back that has been operated on twice in the past year. This isn't about trying to run Romo out of town. It would be a chance to extend the window of having a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback another decade or so, an opportunity the Cowboys shouldn't pass up after navigating that rickety bridge from Aikman to Romo. It would be complicated for a couple of years because of Romo's massive contract and the potential chemistry issues that Roger Staubach mentioned, but it would be well worth it if Manziel can make plays in the NFL like he did in the SEC.

Jean-Jacques Taylor: No. No. No. A thousand times no. This team has way too many holes to draft a quarterback in the first round to sit behind Romo for at least three years. That makes absolutely no sense. When Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers and let him sit, they were a contender. They could afford to do it. There's a good chance Jason Garrett gets fired at the end of next season if he's not in the playoffs. Do you think he wants to take a first-round pick and stash him for the next coach? Heck, no. This was the worst defense in the universe last year. Are they really going to miss out on a chance to help it to draft a quarterback who may or may not be a star?

Archer: OK, let’s move on to the second part of the question: Would the Cowboys take Manziel if he is there at No. 16?

I believe they would. We always talk about how the Cowboys should draft a quarterback every year, so now when they could do it, we’re going to say, "No, not that guy?" I don’t think the next Cowboys quarterback will be developed by this team. In other words, a middle-round pick who sits for a few years and takes over. Almost all of the top quarterbacks come from the first or second round. The Cowboys would have Manziel ready to go without the burden of having to carry the franchise early on. He is skilled. He has ability. And he is a draw. I do think it would be incumbent on the coaches to manage this thing the right way because the second Romo throws a poor pass, fans will be calling for Manziel. You can't operate that way.

Watkins: Say the Cowboys do take him, which I doubt, can you imagine if Romo has a bad game? He has been known to have them from time to time. Garrett would be under pressure to send Manziel into the game when he's not ready. Then if he does use Manziel, you've got a media and fan circus. The Cowboys have endured their own type of drama from Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Romo's own issues, Jerry Jones and how he runs the franchise among other things, but a quarterback drama isn't fun for anybody. Having Manziel around isn't fun. But if Jerry drafted him he wouldn't care, it would be about the business of marketing and not the business of football.

MacMahon: Well, that might depend on who gets the last word in with GM Jerry. I can’t imagine Garrett, a head coach fighting to keep his job as he enters the last season of his contract, would be thrilled with the idea of using a first-round pick on a guy who might be holding a clipboard and still drawing a media horde as a rookie. But Stephen Jones seems just as enamored with Johnny Football as his father is. I don't think Jerry could help himself if Manziel were available when the Cowboys are on the clock. A strong football argument can be made for Manziel as a fit, and it’d be a home run for the marketing department. And we all know the Cowboys' GM cares about marketing almost as much as he does about football.

Taylor: Jerry loves collecting baubles. We know this. Dez Bryant was a bauble. So was Terrell Owens. And Rocket Ismail. He loves any marketing aspect that added more cash to the family treasure trove. I can absolutely see Jerry using the force of his personality to persuade Garrett and vice president Stephen Jones the right move to make is adding Johnny Football to the roster, even though he's going to sit for multiple seasons and wouldn't make an impact on the team unless Romo was hurt. Hey, at least the preseason games would be sold out.

Archer: Let's be honest, he won't be there at No. 16 and I think we all believe it would cost too much to trade up to get him, so who takes Manziel and why is he a better fit there than with the Cowboys?

I’m going with Jacksonville. They need a quarterback and they need a draw. It’s probably not the most sound football decision to think of it like that, but the Jaguars have no juice. Manziel would give them some juice. And the Cowboys will see him at Wembley in November. Perfect.

Watkins: It's interesting, but when I read Ourlads' mock draft, it didn't have Manziel going until No. 26 to Cleveland. But when I look at the top 10, I can see six teams taking him. I think Cleveland takes him at No. 4, but you have to wonder about the weather in the AFC North. Manziel hasn't played in that on a regular basis in college. Can he produce in cold weather in Pittsburgh and Baltimore in November and December? Oakland seems logical as well at No. 5. Matt Schaub should start in 2014 and Manziel would get his chance the following year. It's just no easy place for him to go. Houston, I don't believe, thinks Manziel is better than the two defensive players. So, I guess to answer this question, I think Cleveland takes him at No. 4.

MacMahon: I think the Browns take him at No. 4. The Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since cutting Bernie Kosar, and drafting Manziel would fire up a rabid fan base desperately searching for a reason to be optimistic. Strange as it sounds, I also see Cleveland as a team that would give Manziel a chance to succeed early in his NFL career. Josh Gordon just led the NFL in receiving yards as a 22-year-old despite dealing with a QB rotation. Tight end Jordan Cameron is coming off a Pro Bowl season as a 25-year-old. The Browns have two Pro Bowl offensive linemen -- left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack -- who are in their prime. And Cleveland addressed its need for a running back by signing Ben Tate. Add an electrifying quarterback, and the Browns might actually have one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.

Taylor: On the surface, Jacksonville should be really intrigued by Johnny Football because they need a quarterback and they need someone to put butts in seats. They're going to be bad again, so they need a playmaker on offense. That said, coach Gus Bradley is a defense-minded dude, so he'll probably go defense and take Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. That leaves Johnny Football to Cleveland. The Browns have a really good, young defense. They have a young star in receiver Josh Gordon. What they need is a triggerman. Since 2002, the Browns have had 10 different players lead them in passing, which is not a positive. If he's the star some project, Johnny Football will turn that franchise around and he'll own the city.
IRVING, Texas -- There is no way the Dallas Cowboys will let Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant see free agency.

The Cowboys will exercise the fifth-year option on Smith’s contract by May 2, guaranteeing he will be with the Cowboys in 2015. The Cowboys could also use the franchise tag on Bryant in 2015 if they are unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal.

Ask yourself this question: Who is the last guy the Cowboys wanted to sign to a long-term deal and couldn’t? I can’t think of one.

Smith
Bryant
Bryant
But for this exercise, let’s ask another question: Who would you pay first?

To me the answer is Smith, and it’s not a knock on Bryant.

Smith is young. He doesn’t turn 24 until December. He could very well have two cracks at the big-money apple in his career. He played in his first Pro Bowl in January. He had his best season and has quickly become one of the best left tackles in the NFL.

Have I mentioned he’s young? The Cleveland Browns signed Joe Thomas to a seven-year deal worth $84 million a few years ago with more than $40 million guaranteed. Thomas was a Pro Bowler in his first four seasons before the new deal, and a two-time All-Pro. So Smith doesn’t quite have those credentials, but have I mentioned he’s young?

Left tackle is a more crucial spot than wide receiver, even for a receiver as good as Bryant. We see teams get by without receivers as dominant as Bryant, but you don’t see very many get by with a substandard left tackle. When a team has a left tackle, they keep him.

Smith might want a shorter-term deal than what the Cowboys want to pay. My guess is the team would like the seven-year structure just to help with the salary cap down the road. Smith might want to go shorter so he’s not yet 30 by the time he hits the market for a second time.

As for Bryant, he has answered all of the critics on and off the field. He appears to have put his troubles behind him, although Jerry Jones said at the Owners’ Meetings that Bryant must keep his guard up. There has to be a little concern about Bryant’s back, which has cost him mostly practice time the past two seasons, but Jones is not worried about the long-term effects.

The structure of Bryant’s deal will be important. Do the Cowboys try to give him higher base salaries in his guarantees rather than an overloaded signing bonus? They did it with Terrell Owens in his first contract after what Owens went through with the Philadelphia Eagles. A similar structure would seem to work for Bryant as well.

Bryant is a force in the red zone, but he can score from anywhere on the field. He has developed his all-around game, but there is more work to do. He is the veteran of the receiver room now with Miles Austin gone, so the younger receivers will be paying attention to him.

The bottom line is Smith and Bryant will be Cowboys for as long as the Cowboys want them, but if you’re picking a guy to pay first, Smith is the answer.

Tyron Smith will cash in big time

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
12:15
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IRVING, Texas -- Jason Peters already had the highest average-per-year salary for left tackles before signing a four-year extension with the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday.

Smith
Entering the final year of his deal, Peters will now earn $51.3 million over the next five years with $19.55 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

What does it mean for Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith?

Not as much as you would think, in my opinion.

Smith's deal should be much bigger than this whenever the Cowboys decide to sign their Pro Bowl left tackle to an extension. The Cowboys hold a fifth-year option on Smith's contract, which they must exercise by this spring.

The option is new to the collective bargaining agreement and will bring a whole slew of questions for teams and agents as they attempt to work out new deals.

The contract that Smith might be closer to matching is the seven-year, $84 million deal Joe Thomas received from the Cleveland Browns in 2011. That deal included $44 million in guaranteed money. Thomas, who many consider the best tackle in football, was 26 when he signed.

Smith does not turn 24 until Dec. 12. He is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. He had his best season. He has fully acclimated to the left tackle spot after playing right tackle as a rookie in 2011. It is rare to find a player of Smith's age and ability who is closing in on free agency. He was 20 when the Cowboys picked him ninth overall.

Smith could be so good that he cashes in twice. Peters is 32 and received an extension that averages $10.26 million. Depending on the length of the deal Smith signs with the Cowboys, he could receive a second bite at the free-agent apple in his early 30s. Tackles can play well into their 30s. Flozell Adams was making Pro Bowls in his 30s while with the Cowboys.

Packers eyeing Wisconsin lineman

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The University of Wisconsin has produced plenty of quality NFL offensive linemen recently -- from Travis Frederick to Peter Konz to Joe Thomas to Ricky Wagner to Kevin Zeitler.

None of them, however, has made the short trip north to play for the Green Bay Packers.

It has been more than 10 years since the Packers drafted a lineman from Wisconsin. In back-to-back years (2000 and 2001), they picked tackle Mark Tauscher (seventh round) and guard Bill Ferrario (fourth round). Tauscher went on to become a longtime starter, while Ferrario lasted only one season as a backup.

There’s another former Badgers lineman on the Packers’ radar this year. Ryan Groy said Thursday that he met with Packers offensive line coach James Campen on Wednesday at the NFL combine.

Groy played mostly guard for the Badgers, starting every game at left guard last season. But he also has experience at tackle (three starts in 2012) and center (one start in 2011).

With the Packers potentially in the market for a center depending on whether they re-sign Evan Dietrich-Smith, who will be a free agent next month, Groy might be someone the Packers would consider in the late rounds.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. rated Groy as the 10th-best guard in the draft , although he’s not limiting himself to just that position.

“A lot of guys have asked me that, and what I’ve told them mostly is the inside three [positions],” Groy said on Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “That’s where I feel most comfortable. I feel very comfortable at guard [and] center, and I told them if need be I can play tackle. I’m not afraid to go out there. I’m not afraid to play it.”

Groy’s lone start at center came against Illinois as a sophomore.

“Pete Konz went down against Minnesota, hurt his ankle, and then I played [center] at Illinois,” said Groy, who said he was measured at 6-foot-4 and 316 pounds at the combine. “Travis switched to center in the third quarter and I played left guard the last three games [of that season].”
When it comes to wanting to see a player in the Super Bowl who hasn’t been yet, the Cleveland Browns were nearly unanimous in their choice.

Eighty percent of the 10 players polled preferred Adrian Peterson.

Why does he garner such respect? Because he produces, he’s one of the best, and he’s overcome a significant knee injury to remain one of the best. That is the kind of thing that other players notice, the kind of effort and dedication that other players respect.

The two players other than Peterson to receive votes from the Browns were Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.

One Browns player received votes from the league: left tackle Joe Thomas. He got just three of 320 votes, less than 1 percent. But it’s something -- as at least three players in the league recognize what he’s contributed.

On the quirky side, former Browns place-kicker Phil Dawson garnered one vote. It did not come from Cleveland.

But in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, Dawson was set up for an almost ideal ending. Had the 49ers scored a touchdown on their final drive, the game-winning point could have come from Dawson. And pleased at least one NFL voter.

A look at the AFC North

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
11:00
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The lone AFC North team in the playoffs made another early exit Sunday when the No. 3 Bengals lost to the No. 6 Chargers, 27-10, at Paul Brown Stadium. With all four division teams now in offseason mode, here is a quick look at them by order of finish in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals

2013 record: 11-5, 3-3 in division

Key free agents: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins

Biggest question: Have coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton taken the Bengals as far as they can?

Biggest reason for hope: Despite losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the Bengals have a very good nucleus. Rookie Giovani Bernard showed enough to think his time splitting carries with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis is over.

Why they might disappoint: Dalton has faltered too many times in big games to think he can take the next step, and just making the playoffs is no longer good enough in Cincinnati.

Overall state of the franchise: The Bengals find themselves at a crossroads, but they have little choice but to stick with Dalton -- for now -- unless they want to draft a quarterback in the first round and hand over a veteran team to him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2013 record: 8-8, 4-2

Key free agents: OLB Jason Worilds, WR Emmanuel Sanders

Biggest question: Will the Steelers re-establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders while re-tooling their defense?

Biggest reason for hope: The offense will be able to mask some of the issues the Steelers have on defense if it builds on its strong second half of the 2013 season.

Why they might disappoint: The defense could get worse before it gets better if younger players don’t emerge in the secondary and Worilds signs elsewhere.

Overall state of the franchise: The Steelers are facing a lot of uncertainty, but a 6-2 finish and the way the offense has come together point to them returning to postseason play in 2014 after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Baltimore Ravens

2013 record: 8-8, 3-3

Key free agents: TE Dennis Pitta, LB Daryl Smith

Biggest question: Did the Ravens suffer through the dreaded Super Bowl hangover or are they in decline?

Biggest reason for hope: Joe Flacco is a franchise quarterback, and there is still plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.

Why they might disappoint: The Ravens, like the Steelers, are clearly in transition on defense. Two cornerstones of that defense -- outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- no longer dominate on a consistent basis.

Overall state of the franchise: Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are as good as any general manager-coach tandem in the NFL, and they have to be given the benefit of the doubt even though the Ravens slipped this season.

Cleveland Browns

2013 record: 4-12, 2-4

Key free agents: C Alex Mack, S T.J. Ward

Biggest question: Will a new coach and a quarterback finally stabilize an organization that has floundered, often spectacularly, since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999?

Biggest reason for hope: There are some pieces in place, most notably wide receiver Josh Gordon, cornerback Joe Haden and left tackle Joe Thomas, and the Browns have a pair of first-round picks, including the fourth overall selection.

Why they may disappoint: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden are the quarterbacks the Browns have drafted in the first round since 1999. Why should Browns fans think they will get it right in this draft?

Overall state of the franchise: The Browns dumped coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season, and unless they find the right replacement and, oh yeah, a quarterback in the draft, the Browns will continue to bottom feed in the AFC North.

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